Provided for Review: The Waking Forest by Alyssa Wees

This book was provided for review by Netgalley. Thank you!

The waking forest has secrets. To Rhea, it appears like a mirage, dark and dense, at the very edge of her backyard. But when she reaches out to touch it, the forest vanishes. She’s desperate to know more—until she finds a peculiar boy who offers to reveal its secrets. If she plays a game.

To the Witch, the forest is her home, where she sits on her throne of carved bone, waiting for dreaming children to beg her to grant their wishes. One night, a mysterious visitor arrives and asks her what she wishes for, but the Witch sends him away. And then the uninvited guest returns.

The strangers are just the beginning. Something is stirring in the forest, and when Rhea’s and the Witch’s paths collide, a truth more treacherous and deadly than either could ever imagine surfaces. But how much are they willing to risk to survive?

First and foremost, I would like to thank the very nice people at Netgalley for providing this book to read and review.

The Waking Forest is a beautiful book. The way Wees writes is very descriptive, evoking emotion with even the smallest turn of phrase. The characters of Rhea and her family are portrayed in a very realistic manner thanks to this. Rhea and her sisters squabble one minute then help each other out the next, something someone with siblings of their own will easily recognize.

The drawback though is that sometimes Wees’ descriptions become too much. The narrative becomes bogged down with descriptive words and phrases and the story itself slows to a crawl.

For the first half of the book, the story is told from two separate point of views – Rhea’s and the Witch’s. As each story is unique with its own set of characters, it’s easy to keep track of who goes where. It is only during the second half when the two stories are combined that things become a little more difficult to follow. Individuals who were sisters in one part now have no relation and the same but different.

Sadly, it is almost impossible to accurately describe the goings on without giving away massive spoilers, so I shall refrain from going further.

In writing The Waking Forest, Wees has created a unique story line. While there are some flaws, overall I enjoyed reading the book and would recommend it to my readers.

The Last Wish (The Witcher #1) by Andrzej Sapkowski

The Last Wish by Andrzej Sapkowski
The Last Wish cover

Geralt of Rivia is a witcher. A cunning sorcerer. A merciless assassin. And a cold-blooded killer. His sole purpose: to destroy the monsters that plague the world. But not everything monstrous-looking is evil and not everything fair is good… and in every fairy tale there is a grain of truth.

A collection of short stories introducing Geralt of Rivia, to be followed by the first novel in the actual series, The Blood of Elves.

Note that, while The Last Wish was published after The Sword of Destiny, the stories contained in The Last Wish take place first chronologically, and many of the individual stories were published before The Sword of Destiny.

Technically, The Last Wish is not the first book in The Witcher series though it is often listed as book one. In truth it was printed after The Sword of Destiny – book three – of the series. However, as the events in The Last Wish take place before The Sword of Destiny, it is put first when listing the books of the series.

Since I have not played the Witcher games before reading the books, I did not go in with any expectations aside from the knowledge that this a fantasy series unlike many on the market today. I’m glad for this because from what I understand, there are differences between the two and I know I would be constantly comparing them.

The Last Wish was originally written in Polish and translated to English, a fact that is sometimes obvious while reading. Because while Sapkowski builds a world that is easily believable, the action and story becomes clunky and awkward at times. And as I do not read Polish, I am relying on the English translation when giving my opinion.

The characters that populate the world that Sapkowski writes of are a diverse sort. There are royalty and there are servants, there are those who are human and there are those that are not. These creatures come from a variety of tales and easily recognizable; vampires, elves, goblins, and gnomes.

What gives realism to the world created is that no one character is perfect. There are no “good guys” and “bad guys”. Every character does what they believe is the right thing; for themselves, for their loved ones, for their city or village. Even the titular character – Geralt of Rivera – does not fall in one particular category. As a Witcher, it is his job to seek out the monsters that plague the people. It is a profession he has trained for since he was a child and it is unclear whether he truly enjoys his work or not.

The Last Wish, as well as the rest of the Witcher series, isn’t your ordinary fantasy series. While it does have the creatures that are common in other books, there is also a darkness and a gritty element that may not appeal to everyone. Those who are looking for some realism in their fantasy will likely enjoy it.

Provided for Review: The Bridge of Little Jeremy by Indrajit Garai

This book was provided for review by the author. Thank you!

Jeremy’s mother is about to go to prison for their debt to the State. He is trying everything within his means to save her, but his options are running out fast. 

Then Jeremy discovers a treasure under Paris. 

This discovery may save his mother, but it doesn’t come for free. And he has to ride over several obstacles for his plan to work. 

Meanwhile, something else is limiting his time…

Young Jeremy is a loving and doting son. Despite being only 12 years old and despite having a heart condition that he had recently had surgery on, he still cares for and worries about his mother. As a single mother she must work hard to support her and her son as well as his beloved dog Leon. Unbeknownst to his mother, Jeremy has been selling his paintings and sketches, putting the money aside for when it is needed most. It is only when Jeremy comes across a damaged painting by a famous artist does he believe he can finally save his mother from prison.

The Bridge of Little Jeremy is a unique book. Told from the point of view of Little Jeremy himself, it has the rambling talkative style that most young boys employ when talking. In his descriptions of his walks around the city of Paris, the detail given is enough that is easy to imagine walking beside Jeremy and Leon. The prose is enough to evoke the wonder and beauty that is the city of lights.

Knowing that Garai lives in Paris makes sense because who else would be able to describe a city so perfectly than one who lives there?

In reading the book, I must wonder if the book was translated from French to English. It feels that way as there are certain words and phrases that do not translate that well from one to the other. This only happens a handful of times and is not enough to detract from the beauty that is the story itself.

I am quite happy that Garai approached me for reviewing his book as I enjoyed it very much. Whether you have visited or even if you have never been, The Bridge of Little Jeremy will cause you to fall in love with Paris. I recommend this book to all of my dear readers.

Blood Persuasion (Immortal Jane Austen #2) by Janet Mullany

It is 1810, and the Damned are out of favor–banished from polite society.

Jane Austen’s old un-dead friends have become new neighbors, raising hell in her tranquil village just in time to interrupt Jane’s work on what will be her masterpiece.

Suddenly Jane’s niece is flirting dangerously with vampires, and a formerly respectable spinster friend has discovered the forbidden joys of intimate congress with the Damned (and is borrowing Jane’s precious silk stockings for her assignations). Writing is simply impossible now, with murderous creatures prowling the village’s once-peaceful lanes. And with the return of her vampire characteristics, a civil war looming between factions of the Damned, and a former lover who intends to spend eternity blaming her for his broken heart, Jane is facing a very busy year indeed.

Blood Persuasion is the second book in the Immortal Jane Austen series and is the sequel to Jane and the Damned. It picks up approximately 13 years after the events in the first book. Jane has returned to the simple and quiet life with her family; she has even resumed her writing. Another quiet summer is planned and that is when things go awry.

When I originally reviewed Jane and the Damned, I lauded it for its unique take on a well known trope. And while many of the characters introduced in the first book return in the second, sadly they do not have the same impact as they did before. Fitzwilliam (now known as Fitzpatrick) was an interesting character in the first book and in the second he is quite a bore. My real problem was with the characterization of Jane herself; more than once she came across as shrill and irritating. At one point she even berates her vampire lover Luke, screaming “I thought you loved me!” even while knowing herself that vampires are fickle and take numerous partners.

As far as the overall plot, that is something I can’t comment on simply because there really wasn’t one. There were numerous little plots, such as Jane’s niece being seduced by one of the vampires or the business with the feuding vampire families, but aside from where things took place and the characters involved there was little to tie everything together. The epilogue, while bittersweet, also left much to be desired.

Sadly, Blood Persuasion must join the list of books I simply cannot recommend. As much as I enjoyed the first book, the second one let me down. Read and enjoy the first book – Jane and the Damned – dear readers. And stay far far away from this one.

Confessions by Kanae Minato (Translated by Stephen Snyder)

Book cover for Confessions by Kanae Minato

Her pupils killed her daughter. Now, she will have her revenge.

After an engagement that ended in tragedy, all Yuko Moriguchi had to live for was her four-year-old child, Manami. Now, after a heartbreaking accident on the grounds of the middle school where she teaches, Yuko has given up and tendered her resignation. 

But first, she has one last lecture to deliver. She tells a story that will upend everything her students ever thought they knew about two of their peers, and sets in motion a maniacal plot for revenge. 

As avid a reader as I am and with as much free time as I now have, it is still rare for me to finish a book in less than two days. Confessions I finished in one evening.

Confessions is a story about revenge. About having it and the repercussions it brings. Not just to those who are on the receiving end but also to those around them.

Told in a series of stories, each one is dedicated to a person involved with the events. The first one is told in manner of a lecture by Yuko Moriguchi, a teacher who is on the verge of retiring. Having lost her daughter she is naturally distraught and it is when she has pieced the pieces together of what happened that she plans (and executes) her revenge.

Confessions is a dark and twisted tale. Twisted in the way that just when you believe you know which way the story is going, Minato causes the story to shift and take a completely different direction. It is not a nice book, several reviews I have seen online call it “fucked up” and I completely concur. It is almost akin to a train wreck – horrifying and yet one cannot look away.

Horror fans are likely to be keen on this particular book. Especially if you are like me and enjoy the more psychological aspect of horror and less of the blood and gore aspect. Certainly not for the feint of heart but a good read nonetheless.

Provided for Review: Redhand by Tony Leslie Duxbury

This book was kindly provided for review by the author. Thank you!

It is the new age of barbarism, hundreds of years after the collapse of civilization.

Most of the vast knowledge that mankind had accumulated has been lost. The once great cities are either piles of blasted rubble or crumbling ruins. After society imploded, humanity turned on one another. Decades of war followed. The survivors banded together in tribes and clans.

All the bullets and bombs have run out. It’s back to edged weapons and blunt instruments. Technology has taken an enormous step backwards, and so has humanity. 

He belongs to a band of wanderers, mainly peaceful people who gather and hunt. One day they suffer a raid by a group of warriors and in the aftermath, he finds himself alone. All his family and friends killed, and he left for dead. The only survivor was his little sister, which the raiders kidnapped. He vows to rescue her. After a night of mourning, he sets off to get back his sister, not yet a man and without any idea how to go about it. The shock of the raid and the grief that followed it fundamentally changed him. He surprises himself time and again as he tracks down his sister’s kidnappers and gets her back.

Redhand is a book about change. After a catastrophic event referred to only as The Collapse, society as a whole changed. War pitted man against man until the bullets ran out. And even once they were gone, man continued to rally against his proverbial brother; only this time using weapons of metal and stone.

Duxbury does not shy away from showing how brutal and cruel things have become in his novel. His action scenes are vivid and often times gruesome, the protagonist dubbed Redhand unwilling to back down from a fight. The young man isn’t the only one prone to violence though, nearly every character we meet has fought and continued to fight for their survival.

Redhand is told through a series of five short stories; each story a chapter in the young man’s life. The stories are in sequential order so the reader can watch as the protagonist changes from a wide eyed youth to a hardened traveler. The issue comes with the lack of any real character development, even with Redhand himself. Were this a full length novel, it could have allowed for stronger emotional bonds to form between reader and book characters.

The ending of the final story also felt very abrupt. Almost as if Duxbury wasn’t sure how to bring things to an end and simply stopped writing. Such a sudden ending took me by surprise as I was expecting Redhand’s travels to continue at least a little more.

Overall, Redhand is a decent take on the post apocalyptic genre. I think with a bit more work fleshing out the stories and the work of a good editor – the copy I received still had a few editor’s notes left in it – it could become something much better. Readers looking for a fast read might give this one a look.

Doctor Who: Borrowed Time by Naomi Alderman

WHATEVER YOU BORROW MUST BE REPAID…

Andrew Brown never has enough time. No time to call his sister, or to prepare for that important presentation at the bank where he works. The train’s late, the lift jams. If only he had just a little more time. And time is the business of Mr Symington and Mr Blenkinsop. They’ll lend him some – at a very reasonable rate of interest.

Scenting something sinister, the Doctor, Amy and Rory go undercover at the bank. But they have to move fast to stop Symington and Blenkinsop before they cash in their investments. (via Goodreads)

Who among us couldn’t use more time? Time to get done all the things that need to get done but to also do the things one wants to do? According to Mr. Symington and Mr. Blenkinsop, they have the perfect solution and are quite happy to help. And it’s all available at a quite reasonable rate of interest.

Anyone who knows me knows I am a big Doctor Who fan. I’ve read several of the series novels before and even reviewed them here, though I tend to prefer the actual TV show over the books. The reason being that the novels are very hit and miss when it comes to capturing the essence of the show. When the books in question are good, they are very good; and when they are bad, they are usually awful.

Fortunately, Borrowed Time is a hit. Reading it was very much like watching an episode, albeit in my head instead of on my TV screen. Naomi Alderman does an excellent job of capturing Eleven’s frenetic – almost frantic – way of speech. The way he randomly rambles is caught on the printed page and it is incredibly easy to mentally picture Matt Smith saying the words.

Also worth mentioning is the way Amy and Rory (especially Rory) are kept relevant in the story. They are the Doctor’s companions, his friends; and like in the show they offer another view of what is happening. They help to gather information as well as offer assistance when they can. I especially liked how Rory was used and not simply brushed aside – something that sadly happens too often for him. He can be every bit as intelligent and insightful as Amy and that is used to good effect in this book.

Borrowed Time is a fairly quick read, again emulating the show’s hour long episode format. With only a few minor tweaks I could easily see this book being turned in to an actual episode.

Fans of Doctor Who – especially his Eleventh incarnation – will enjoy this one. I recommend picking it up and soundly rejecting any one who says they can help you with time.

A Debt of Survival by L.F. Falconer

A Debt of Survival cover

The summer of 1969 sees Neil Armstrong walk on the moon. In California, the Manson family commits bloody murder. A half million people descend upon Woodstock in New York. And in Diablo Springs, Nevada, something evil crawls out of the earth.

Fifteen years in law enforcement never prepared Sheriff Don Lattimore for this. Suspecting his daughter is involved in satanic activity within an abandoned house on Redwing Lane, he soon finds himself mired in an investigation straight from the depths of Hell. A wave of destruction sweeps over the county and the death toll rises daily.

Plagued by a mentally unstable witness, a crumbling marriage, and the war-born ghosts of his own past, Lattimore no longer knows where to turn in his battle to preserve his community. Then a stranger comes to town, offering deliverance. Now Lattimore faces a horrific decision. Is he willing to sacrifice a child for the greater good? Even his own? (via Goodreads)

The year of 1969 was, historically, a year of changes. The country itself was in transition, moving from one school of thought to another. And it is in this changing setting that Falconer sets her novel.

A Debt of Survival is not for the faint of heart. It is dark and gritty and at times quite violent. A few scenes are even hard to read simply because they lay the truth of war bare. War, regardless of the time or place, is not pleasant. It doesn’t matter who is on what side, or if those fighting are even human; it is nasty and cruel and Falconer does not shy away from this.

On the surface, A Debt of Survival seems like a rather straight forward horror type novel. It is only as one reads further and gets to the real meat of the story do we realize that not everything is as black and white. That maybe those proclaiming to be the ‘good guys’ aren’t all that good. Or maybe they are but only for their definition of good.

This book had me practically from the first word on the first page up to the final phrase. It kept me on the edge of my seat, eagerly turning the page in an effort to find out just what happens next. The ending is and isn’t satisfying and is a set up for what I sincerely hope will become a series. I would love to find out what happens to these characters down the road.

The Perfect Assassin (The Chronicles of Ghadid #1) by K.A. Moore – Provided for Review

This book was provided for review by the kind people at Netgalley. Thank you!

Divine justice is written in blood.

Or so Amastan has been taught. As a new assassin in the Basbowen family, he’s already having second thoughts about taking a life. A scarcity of contracts ends up being just what he needs.

Until, unexpectedly, Amastan finds the body of a very important drum chief. Until, impossibly, Basbowen’s finest start showing up dead, with their murderous jaan (spirits) running wild in the dusty streets of Ghadid. Until, inevitably, Amastan is ordered to solve these murders, before the family gets blamed.

Every life has its price, but when the tables are turned, Amastan must find this perfect assassin or be their next target. (via Goodreads)

Many times when an author chooses to write a novel set in a fantasy world, they take their inspiration from European style sources. Doore’s decision to use Middle Eastern style influences for her characters and setting give The Perfect Assassin a refreshing feel. The city of Ghadid is one of sand and stone, where water is oftentimes scarce. Where magic and belief play a influence on every person’s day to day life and in a unique twist, it is the men who cover their faces and not the women.

The main character, Amastan, is easy to relate to. He is a young man just starting his journey in life, and while he has spent years training to be an assassin, he still has his doubts about being able to actually do the job. For many who are just leaving school/college, this is a feeling they will likely understand all too well. Amastan can be brash at times but as the book goes on he learns to trust his instincts, even if things don’t end quite in the way he wants.

Other secondary characters are also introduced. They are Amastan’s “cousins”, individuals related to him (though distantly) who have received the same training as he has and are part of the Basbowen family. The second book focuses on one of these secondary characters, and it is my hope that future books will feature others as well.

I feel I must make mention of the homosexual romance that is a small thread in the overall tapestry of The Perfect Assassin. I know the majority of my readers will be like me and not care over the fact that Amastan falls for another man, but there are some who might take offence and so I give this tiny mention. Personally, I thought the blooming romance between Amastan and Yufit was rather sweet and well done. In my opinion, it was very cute.

My only complaint in regards to the book is how the word God is handled. Any time a character says the word, it is written as “G-d”. Now whether this is a choice of the author’s or of the publisher, I can’t say. What I can say is that I found it irritating and it immediately pulled me out of the story every time I came across it. I do not understand why some authors do this, but I believe if they wish to use this particular name they should either spell it out wholly or come up with another moniker.

In conclusion, I enjoyed reading The Perfect Assassin. There was a good deal of action without too much gratuitous violence and Doore’s fluid writing really helped to move the story along. I see there is a second book in the series coming out later this year and I am already looking forward to it.

The Dreamers by Karen Thompson – Provided for Review

This book was provided for review by the kind folks at Netgalley. Thank you!

In an isolated college town in the hills of Southern California, a freshman girl stumbles into her dorm room, falls asleep—and doesn’t wake up. She sleeps through the morning, into the evening. Her roommate, Mei, cannot rouse her. Neither can the paramedics who carry her away, nor the perplexed doctors at the hospital. Then a second girl falls asleep, and then another, and panic takes hold of the college and spreads to the town. As the number of cases multiplies, classes are canceled, and stores begin to run out of supplies. A quarantine is established. The National Guard is summoned. 

Mei, an outsider in the cliquish hierarchy of dorm life, finds herself thrust together with an eccentric, idealistic classmate. Two visiting professors try to protect their newborn baby as the once-quiet streets descend into chaos. A father succumbs to the illness, leaving his daughters to fend for themselves. And at the hospital, a new life grows within a college girl, unbeknownst to her—even as she sleeps. A psychiatrist, summoned from Los Angeles, attempts to make sense of the illness as it spreads through the town. Those infected are displaying unusual levels of brain activity, more than has ever been recorded. They are dreaming heightened dreams—but of what?

I always enjoy it when a book grabs my attention in the first few paragraphs before taking me on a wild ride. And that is exactly what happened when I read The Dreamers. From the first page to the last, I was enthralled by the story and continually wondering what would happen next.

One of the good things about this book is that there aren’t too many characters to try and keep track of. Yes, the book takes place in a small college town, but what is happening is presented from only a few points of view. The fact that the characters are all different ages and come from different walks of life only adds an extra layer of enjoyment.

The only real complaint I have is in regards to the virus itself. So very little attention is given to it, though it plays a major role in the story. Where did it come from? How did Kara, Patient Zero, originally contract it? Where did the virus eventually go? It’s alluded that it simply fizzled out, but because the whole town wasn’t affected, I find that tiny point a little hard to swallow.

Personally, I enjoyed reading The Dreamers; I practically devoured it. I wouldn’t recommend it for hypochondriacs, but for those looking for a good fairly quick read, I say give this one a try.